56 www. bus- ex. com March 10 " In 20 years the dam will look like the rest of the countryside- a
Somincor The company has always invested significantly in exploration, not only at the Neves- Corvo mine but across the Iberian Peninsula where it holds a number of exploration leases. However, to extend the life of the Neves- Corvo mine, the company initiated a programme of surface drilling in 2005 and began searching for further deposits of copper. It found them; but it also discovered a huge deposit of zinc. Between 2006 and 2009, the exploration was ramped up dramatically. Approximately 30,000 metres of surface drilling was undertaken each year to explore the extent and depth of the deposits; and about 17,000 metres of underground drilling was carried out each year to convert resources into reserves. " The total measured and indicated copper resource at the moment is 24 million tons at four per cent," says managing director John Andreatidis, " which is very rich. Meanwhile, our total measured and indicated resource for zinc is 73 million tons at 6.5 per cent. In addition, we have 23 million tons of zinc ore inferred which will likely translate into resources, so we really have zinc coming out of our ears." Updated resource estimates based on recent drilling are expected in the coming months. In parallel with exploration of the zinc and copper deposits, the company began to prepare the mine to process these new reserves. Around ? 6.3 million was invested in converting an old tin plant on the site into an efficient and modern zinc treatment plant. The entire structure was raised to make room for the necessary lifting gear and equipment, while the existing equipment was upgraded or replaced. Once all the bottlenecks in production had been ironed out, processing capacity at the plant increased from 365,000 tons a year to 500,000 tons, which would yield 25,000 tons of zinc metal in concentrates. Zinc production began in July 2006 and remained steady at 25,000 tons a year of zinc in concentrate until November 2008, when the world dipped into recession and zinc prices collapsed. " We then suspended the zinc mining. But we continued investing in our programme of expansion," Andreatidis says. " In technical and industrial terms we could in fact resume zinc production now, but we're just waiting for prices to stabilise a little more." To date, around ? 50 million has been invested in underground development, exploration and studies for zinc and the company expects to invest further over the coming years as it develops the resource. A large proportion of this is likely to go into underground work, building new galleries and access ramps; and the rest into an ambitious plan to quadruple the capacity of the March 10 www. bus- ex. com 57 little rolling hill"